"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Indiana Vouchers Set to Expand Again


Ten years ago the Indiana General Assembly established the state's voucher program to "provide children who attend failing schools grants to attend a school of choice." At that time, the state provided tuition help for low-income students to attend religious schools (it's actually "private" schools, but nearly all are religious). Families earning more than $60,000 were not included. The inflation rate over the last ten years has been about 16% so that $60,000 cap would be about $70,000 today. The General Assembly, however, wants to double that and the Indiana House will vote on the bill tomorrow (February 15).

We've spent more than half a billion dollars on vouchers since 2011. Has it helped poor students? Has it improved learning? Has it improved public schools as voucher proponents claimed it would? The state has yet to evaluate the program for anything other than political contributions. As with other voucher programs around the country, the voters have never directly chosen to spend all that money.

In 2011 the goal of the voucher program was to help poor students "escape" from "failing" [read: high-poverty] schools. Now the program goal is to provide "choice" for private and religious schools to accept middle-class families who would have sent their kids to their schools anyway.

The money for vouchers comes from the state's education budget, so the voucher students in one county are draining away public funds that could be used for public school students in other counties around the state. The money also goes to mostly religious schools despite the state constitution prohibition (Article 1, Section 6). How does that pass legal muster? The state Supreme Court agreed to allow the state to launder the money through parents. Parents choose the voucher recipient (assuming that the school accepts their child, of course), and the state sends the cash directly to the school -- state funds, directly from tax dollars to religious schools. It doesn't matter if the school discriminates against certain students, hires unqualified teachers, or teaches religious doctrine as scientific fact.

Meanwhile, funds for high poverty public schools are being capped, public school teacher salaries are ignored again, and charter schools are also getting a budget boost.

How does this keep happening? The Indiana electorate, including the parents and caretakers of the 90% of students who attend public schools, continue to vote for people who hate public schools.

Betsy would be proud.

Bill lavishes more money on favored private schools
Freshman state lawmaker Jake Teshka was incredulous. He had just listened to the president of the Indiana School Board Association criticize a sweeping expansion of the school voucher program as benefiting wealthy families.

“Do you believe, that in 2021, $140,000 in a family of four is considered wealthy?” the South Bend Republican asked Robert Stwalley during Feb. 3 testimony on House Bill 1005.

“I would certainly consider it to be wealthier than the original program was designed – for the low income. Absolutely,” the Purdue University engineering professor replied. “For a family of five, that brings you up to $160,000 a year in income. That's pretty wealthy, sir.”

Median household income in Indiana is $57,603, according to census data. For a family of four, it is $90,654.

Teshka isn't the only House Republican out of touch with Hoosier families. His colleagues on the House Education Committee, as well as all Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, voted unanimously to support HB 1005. The bill goes to the full House on Monday, where the super-majority caucus appears dead set on removing already-generous income limits on vouchers and adding education savings accounts, a costly program with an extensive record of abuse in other states.

Hoosiers should demand to know the justification for handing millions in tax dollars to high-income households and private and parochial schools. How many more ways can GOP lawmakers find to take money from the schools serving 90% of Indiana's students, including the neediest?


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